Dog expert: What makes a dog turn on its owner?

(WRIC Photo)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — As authorities in Goochland County continue their investigation into the death of 22-year-old Bethany Stephens, many people online are questioning the manner in which she died.

A medical examiner determined Stephens was mauled to death by her two pit bull dogs.

Many people following this story online said they find it hard to believe her dogs would commit such a tragedy.

Valerie Paul, a certified master trainer at Impawsible Pups in Richmond, said it’s unusual for dogs to attack their owners out of nowhere.

“That’s not something I would normally see,” she said. “If a dog has teeth, it can bite, but to go from a lovable no-bite history dog to one that is causing harm would be fairly rare.”

Paul said it’s hard to determine exactly what happened to Stephens without knowing the dogs.

She said there are several factors to consider if the 22-year-old’s dogs turned on her.

“Either something frightened them or there was an altercation between the two dogs that [Stephens] happened to be in the middle of,” Paul said.

Investigators said the pit bulls guarded her when they discovered Stephens’ body.

“A lot of people are saying [the dogs] wouldn’t guard if they killed, but the reality is if it’s a resource, they may guard that as their food source or their toy the same way that a dog might guard a bone on a blanket,” Paul explained.

Dog owners at a Carytown pet supply store fear this investigation feeds into the stigma surrounding pit bulls.

Catherine Brooks, an owner of two pit bulls, said she’s stunned by what Goochland County investigators said happened to Stephens.

“I’ve never heard of something like that happening where the dogs would inflict it and then turn around and change their mind on it,” Brooks said.

Goochland County Sheriff’s Office is working to have the dogs euthanized. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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